'The Walking Dead' Postmortem: Danai Gurira Talks the Show's New Supercouple

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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WARNING: This interview contains spoilers for “The Next World” episode of The Walking Dead.

They skipped most of the will they/won’t they and went straight to “they did!” The Walking Dead’s newest supercouple, long-time pals Rick and Michonne, were on many a fan’s shipper wish list — #Richonne, people! — but there was little concrete evidence that it was actually going to happen, and happen now. Seriously, in the comments below, tell us the exact moment in that final scene when you said to yourself, “They are really going there!”

Related: ‘The Walking Dead’ Recap: Love, and Sex, in the Apocalypse

In the meantime, Yahoo TV talked to Michonne herself, Danai Gurira, for her take on the new duo, including when she first started shippin’ Rick and Michonne, how she and co-star Andy Lincoln approached the sweet and sexy hook-up, and what she thinks led to this most momentous of TWD occasions.

This is an episode that needed to be watched with a big group of TWD fans, just to see what their reactions were.
I know! I’ve actually requested a watch-cam on a couple people to see what happens.

There has always been a special relationship between Michonne and the Grimes men, going back to “Clear” in Season 3, when they took the road trip and ran into Morgan, and in Season 4’s “After,” when Michonne reunites with Carl and Rick after The Governor’s attack on the prison. And then in “No Way Out,” Rick and Michonne worked together to save Carl. Still, this is a whole new situation. What did you think when you found out Michonne and Rick were going to become a couple?
I thought it made sense, honestly. I’ve also kind of felt that same thing, but I didn’t share it publicly at all. But I did feel that it made sense for those two to ultimately have this type of connection. It did seem like they had an intimacy that was, you know, really rich and organic and really kind of easy. For Michonne, he was just kind of the man she met who really was her match, who really was like a man she can really respect, you know?

I think after dealing with her ex, who betrayed her and cost his life and their son’s life, and then meeting The Governor and people like that… you need someone like Rick. [Michonne] is a very good judge of character, and there was something very clearly like, “This is a man, a leader, I can align to, I can align with.” He had her respect, which is not an easy thing to get. That, I think, is really at the core of anything like this developing. Someone like Michonne has to just really deeply respect the man, and Rick’s someone who has won her respect many, many times. And she’s also able to check him when she disagrees with him. They have such an authentic connection that, honestly, since “Clear,” I was kind of like, “Hmm, I wonder,” you know what I mean? I had a chat with [TWD showrunner Scott] Gimple about it, but he, you know, he kept it pretty close to his chest. But it was something that really was making sense, that this was where they end up next.

And it makes so much sense at this particular time, after what they just went through, and with Rick in this hopeful state for the first time in the whole series, really.
Yeah. And I think they’ve also had this new lease on life because Carl recovered, and because they recovered this place. I think for Michonne to see Rick go through that transformation… because she was trying and trying to have him accept these Alexandrians as [part of their group], not “us and them.” They’d argued about it just recently, in “Heads Up,” so the idea of him actually getting to the place where, through this insane circumstance, they actually gained their connection with the community in a really true way, and he gained a place of hope in his heart… I think that’s also something that elevated their intimacy and progressed them to that moment, which I think was truly earned.

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Michonne had some great moments with Spencer, too, and that seemed to boost her feeling of connectedness to Carl and Rick. No one understands better than Carl why Spencer needed to have that closure with his mom, but Michonne probably understands better than anyone Spencer’s feeling of having lost his whole family, and how it’s possible to make a new one, as she’s done with Rick and Carl.
Right! And that was another thing: I think she realizes that she hadn’t been paying as much attention to Spencer as she wished she had. He is someone who has gone through a lot of losses, and so she’s hellbent on making sure nothing happens to him. You know, he lost his mom and his dad, but we’re not going to lose him. We’re going to take care of him, and he’s going to be part of our family now.

That sort of connection with him, and also seeing him out there, seeing his mother out there, was something that I think really affects Michonne because she promised his mother that she would reconnect with that part of herself, with a part of herself that she knew when Deanna asked, “What do you want? Yeah, you all want to make this place work, you want to take care of everybody, but what do you want?” And for Michonne to actually reconnect to her heart, to her desires, is something that I think she never allowed herself to do. She had such a wall around that, she didn’t even allow herself to be that introspective, because once she’d lost her ex and her son, I think gaining Rick and Carl [as new family] was not in her mind. There’s no way she then starts saying, “Oh, but I’m actually kind of… I actually really have feelings for him.” Like, she can’t go there, she just couldn’t go there. But seeing Deanna, and talking about her with Spencer, and having him say stuff to her like, “You have a life back there,” that realization of how she does have this life, and having Carl say what she means to him later… that’s with love. You see a lot of them love that day, and, so, it was forcing her to get out of the way of her heart. Which I think generally she’s very good at, she can love on people, but not the way she ends up with Rick. That’s what leads to her joy, allowing herself to hold onto him when he holds her hand. Because he does that really sweet thing: she wanted toothpaste, he couldn’t get it, but he got her something. He’s not going to walk in the house empty-handed for her, you know?

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It’s always those little gestures that mean the most, but who expected a roll of mints would lead to all this?
It’s really sweet. I think that just opens her heart up even more, when she sees so much love on this day, and her heart gets the steering wheel for a second. That’s the moment she actually allows herself to listen to her heart and see him.

It’s such a playful scene, too. When Michonne laughs after he kisses her, what’s going through her head?
It’s pure joy. You know? It’s joy, because it’s that realization, it’s that discovery, it’s that letting go, it’s that other place that she really hasn't… I don’t think she’s really opened herself up in this way ever. It’s just a whole other level of stakes to open yourself up to this, at this moment in time, and there’s something beautiful and joyous in it. It’s scary, but in a beautiful way. She knows she’s in the safest place in the world with the person she wants to be with most in the world. It’s just joy.

And it’s a very sexy scene. How did you and Andy Lincoln approach it? What did you want to convey during it?
The key thing we wanted to do was to let them discover each other, and to let them kind of let go into the moment together. We did talk about the scene a lot, we talked about it with the director [Kari Skogland]. We sort of knew where we were going to do it, where in the living room, that it was going to be on the couch. But in terms of actually seeing the scene through, like kissing and stuff, we didn’t do that until the day, until the cameras rolled, because we wanted to allow that to be whatever it was going to be. We understood the arc of the scene and worked with that, but we just wanted to allow them to discover each other, to find each other and to feel the joy of that union, and not construct it too much.

They’re jarred out of this state of joy by Jesus…
I don’t even think she’s fully awake! But her body is awake and her instincts are awake… she’s ready to kill somebody, but I don’t even think she’s really fully conscious yet. She’s conscious enough to do something if she has to.

Related: 'The Walking Dead’ Postmortem: Greg Nicotero Talks Carl’s Injury, Heroic Daryl, and the Season 6 Finale

What can you say about what Carl’s reaction will be to this new relationship?
I mean, we’ll have to see. I don’t know how long we could keep it from him. But I don’t think Rick and Michonne have gotten that far yet. [Until Jesus], we quite literally leave off with them asleep in bed after making love. I don’t think they’ve thought about Carl yet. I think that’s the next thing they were going to do when they woke up in the morning, but they didn’t get to wake up normally in the morning, because of Mr. Jesus. So now we’ve got to deal with him.

This episode is unlike any other in the series because of all the blatant humor. Even in that romantic scene with Rick and Michonne, there were those moments, and in the opening scene where they’re all getting ready for the day. Much of the humor came from situations where we see them all doing normal things, because they don’t get to live that way most of the time.
I know, I loved that. I loved this episode, I did. I loved shooting it, I loved it when I read it. You know, because it’s that sort of new hope, where they get to have some normalcy. And I loved the Daryl stuff, where he kept talking about putting Jesus up a tree. It is really fun to get to play that variety after stepping out of [the last episode], most of which was spent in a meat poncho and the rest is spent hacking, hacking, and hacking walkers. So it was really quite an interesting departure to step into something kind of lighter, that has humor and even romance in it. I was like, “No one is going to expect this episode to come after [“No Way Out”].”

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.